|David J. Rowlands AC|
|Hefin David AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Lee Waters AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Russell George AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AC|
|Andrew Morgan||Llefarydd CLlLC dros Drafnidiaeth, yr Amgylchedd a Chynaliadwyedd, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Spokesperson for Transport, Environment and Sustainability, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Andy Falleyn||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Yr Is-Adran Cyflenwi Seilwaith, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Infrastructure Delivery, Welsh Government|
|David Bois||Rheolwr Busnes, Asiant Cefnffyrdd De Cymru|
|Business Manager, South Wales Trunk Road Agent|
|David Evans||Rheolwr Rhwydwaith / Dirprwy Bennaeth Gwasanaeth, Asiant Cefnffyrdd Gogledd a Chanolbarth Cymru|
|Network Manager / Deputy Head of Service, North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent|
|Dr Tim Peppin||Cyfarwyddwr Materion Adfywio a Datblygu Cynaliadwy, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Director of Regeneration and Sustainable Development, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Ian Hughes||Rheolwr Gweithrediadau Busnes a Statudol, Asiant Cefnffyrdd Gogledd a Chanolbarth Cymru|
|Business and Statutory Operations Manager, North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent|
|Judith Cole||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Gweithlu a Phartneriaeth Cymdeithasol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Workforce and Social Partnerships, Welsh Government|
|Ken Skates AC||Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros yr Economi a Thrafnidiaeth|
|Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport|
|Richard Jones||Pennaeth Gwasanaeth, Asiant Cefnffyrdd De Cymru|
|Head of Service, South Wales Trunk Road Agent|
|Sheena Hague||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Rheolaeth y Rhwydwaith, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Network Management, Welsh Government|
|Simon Jones||Cyfarwyddwr ar gyfer Seilwaith yr Economi, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director of Economic Infrastructure, Welsh Government|
|Robert Lloyd-Williams||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Asiantau cefnffyrdd—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru||2. Trunk Road Agents—State of Roads in Wales|
|3. Llywodraeth leol—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru||3. Local Government—State of Roads in Wales|
|4. Llywodraeth Cymru—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru||4. Welsh Government—State of Roads in Wales|
|5. Papurau i'w nodi||5. Papers to note|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac o'r cyfarfodydd ar 11 Gorffennaf a 19 Gorffennaf||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and the meetings on the 11 July and 19 July|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:18.
The meeting began at 09:18.
Bore da. Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee this morning. I move to item 1. We have apologies from Adam Price this morning, and other Members are joining us shortly. I do ask: are there any declarations of interest this morning from Members? No, apart from the fact that we all use the roads, I expect.
Item 2. This is in regard to our inquiry on the state of roads in Wales, and this is our last session this morning, of three sessions. This morning we welcome colleagues from the trunk road agency, and I'd be grateful, before we start, if you could just introduce yourselves and your job role, if you like, before we start our first questions. Perhaps if I go from my left.
Good morning. Bore da. My name is David Evans. I'm the network manager and deputy agency manager for North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent.
Bore da. I'm Ian Hughes. I'm with the North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent, and I'm the business manager.
Bore da. Good morning. My name's Richard Jones. I'm the head of service for the South Wales Trunk Road Agent.
Good morning. Bore da. My name is David Bois. I'm the business manager for the South Wales Trunk Road Agent.
Lovely. Well, thank you for being with us this morning. If I could ask the first question, what's your assessment of the condition of the trunk road and motorway network in Wales?
I think evidence shows that there has been a slight deterioration in the overall condition over the last five years. The evidence base we look at in making that viewpoint is the number of category 1 defects that we note on the network. So, the three elements we look at in terms of the evidence are the surfacing type and environmental factors. What we can show is that, whilst the increase has been slight—about 20 per cent increase over the last three years—what we are seeing is that the effect of environmental factors such as last year's winter, and the previous winter, has shown a rapid increase over the months of January, February and March.
To put that in context, if we look at the expenditure levels we've had since 2013-14 to 2017-18 for capital maintenance on the carriageway, for the first two sets of years, we were averaging around £4.5 million-worth on carriageway repairs, and what you start to see then is that the level of defects that we're tracking—about 3,700—start to increase, which shows that possibly that wasn't enough to keep it at a steady state. So, what we're seeing then is that the investment levels have increased significantly: £9 million to £14 million to £12.5 million. But we're still seeing, with the element of the environmental factors such as winter, a high level of about 4,000 defects. So, it does show that it's slightly deteriorating, but that looks at the surface condition only, not the structural condition of the road.
And what's the structural condition of the road like? Because we all see—. The public see the top surface, I see that, so what's your assessment of what can't be seen, if you like, the structural condition of the road?
From an agent's perspective, what we're seeing is failures at the surfacing levels. The surface condition is now, which we'll probably come on to later on in our evidence—. Following the 2015 planning transfer, that's data that Welsh Government themselves now manage in terms of the structural condition. I think in their report they've mentioned about the structural condition remaining static, although recognising there is a backlog in maintenance, but that's something that—. They have the access to that data themselves.
And I'm assuming that your colleagues are in agreement with what you said, otherwise you'll say differently. Can I ask—? You've mentioned the deterioration, or that deterioration being there due to environmental factors such as poor winters. Are environmental issues the only issue for deterioration, or are there other potential issues as well?
What we're seeing, really, is that, if you look at the material types that we have on roads, historically, the material type of choice was a hot rolled asphalt; it was seen as more resilient. There was a change in the late 1990s where we started advocating, on the grounds of environmental concerns and use of virgin aggregate—in order to reduce the use of virgin aggregate, we moved to a thin surfacing as an industry.
The lifespan we used to get from hot rolled asphalt was around 15 to 20 years. What we're seeing now, with thin surfacings, is lifespan of anything between five to eight years, typically. What we are seeing as well is that, in a deteriorating thin surfacing course, you will see—they are more prone to environmental factors such as poor weather, winter.
So, just to understand the process—I don't understand the technology, but the process some years back was different in terms of the surface lasted a lot longer. So, what was the reason for the change in that process?
The change was predominantly on environmental grounds, both on noise—. Hot rolled asphalt would have a proud chipping that was seen as being noisy, although it was a very resilient construction layer. But also on the grounds that it did use virgin aggregate, so the chipping was mined. So, it was around the two factors. I'm not sure if Dave can support me.
Very much so. A lot of it was driven by Highways England, the south-east of England aggregate shortage to install the chippings on the top of hot rolled asphalt; there were reports done in 2004 on that. So, that led to an industry change. It's the noise and spray on the road as well. That was one of the other benefits, and, arguably, a thinner layer than you required with hot rolled asphalt. But there's still hot rolled asphalt out there now that's over 30 years old.
And do any of the other panel members want to comment on anything that's been said, or any of my questions? You're happy to—?
Fine. Joyce Watson. Sorry, Vikki Howells. Joyce first. Joyce Watson.
Okay. Good morning, all. How far are you trunk road agencies able to apply an asset management approach—and the main barriers, if you have any, to doing that?
The asset management approach is, really, driven by Welsh Government these days; they're responsible for the planning function with trunk roads. That's something that transferred over in 2015. Of course, that translates through to us through the Welsh Government trunk road maintenance manual, so that we can implement the requirements of the asset management plan through that trunk road maintenance manual.
So, what you're saying is that you're restricted according to what the Government—.
Well, I understand that Welsh Government are issuing a new asset management plan later this year. We're aware of that. There are a lot of elements of the asset management plan already in place, but I guess Welsh Government are looking at the different asset types as well, and what asset management approaches would be required for each of those asset types—structures, for example, or carriageway pavements or drainage, those sorts of elements of highway infrastructure.
I'm interested in what your views are on the current approach to budget setting and how you feel that that impacts on highway maintenance projects.
I think what we have shown in our report is that, in terms of the budget level, there are two issues that we'd be looking at. In my earlier response, we noted that the low levels of budget we had in 2013 potentially could've been seen as an impact in the deterioration that we're seeing now. We have since had an increase in budget allocation, which doesn't appear to have addressed the number. It's kept things relatively static, although it's difficult to see because of the adverse weather issue.
The biggest issue that we've been calling for, really, is that we work in an annualised budget cycle, and we are working very closely with Welsh Government. There have been developments over the last two years to try and bring the budgets earlier. I think, from our perspective, if you have an earlier budget indication, then we can plan and programme our works to have a flatter profile of works on the network during the financial year. If we have a late allocation of works, by the time we've actually specified and put the work packages together through our supply chain, then, inevitably, that could then start to move towards the latter end of the year, which then is at the wrong time of year, you could argue, especially in bad winters.
So, are you saying that you're happy with an annual funding cycle as long as that funding doesn't come through late? Because it's more than three years now since the Public Accounts Committee flagged up these issues and suggested that we move away from annual funding. Obviously, in England, they have a five-year budget cycle. Is that something that you think would be a good thing here in Wales, or are you happy with the annual funding as long as it comes through earlier?
I think it's difficult, because in our report we have said we would welcome a five-year plan, but, to be honest, we've benefited as trunk road agents over the last three years from getting additional funding due to departmental underspends elsewhere. If you move to a five-year programme, maybe that wouldn't be as available as it is. We welcome the funding; we welcome any funding that we have, even the late funding. I think we would benefit if we had our initial allocation earlier. We would then be able to implement our programmed work in advance of the winter. If additional funding comes along then, all you're dealing with then, with the supply chain, is that spike, rather than everything being compressed towards the end of the year.
I think, with the budget, as we've mentioned, the early notification is very important. The budget surety helps us, certainly, with the supply chain management, that they're aware of what levels of work are coming through the programme. Allied with the certainty of a budget are the works that are required to go along with that. So, my colleague David mentioned earlier about Welsh Government, with the planning team now being very prescriptive as to what works are carried out on the network. It's early notification of the budget and the associated programme that speeds up the planning process and enables that profiling through the year.
What you really want is an asset management plan coupled with a financial strategy, really—the two go hand in hand.
Thank you, and one final question from me: do you think there's scope for greater collaboration and co-ordination of approach between the trunk road agencies and local highway authorities? We've had suggestions in evidence to us, including things like common pan-Wales performance indicators, common approach to planning maintenance and perhaps the establishment of a pavements efficiencies group. What are your views on that?
I think we welcome collaboration. There are pockets of collaboration occurring, but there isn't a formal framework to collaboration with local authorities. The County Surveyors Society, I know, were here last week giving evidence, and there's been emerging discussion where we do have representation on some of the sub-groups and that's something we're keen to continue. Our street works manager is on the current secretariat for the street works group, and that works well—that enables the collaboration of communication. We work closely with local authorities and supply chain partners and we have a service collaboration agreement with those local authorities, so we do collaborate and there may be an opportunity through organisations such as CSS Wales to maybe formalise that approach or with Welsh Government's consent. There are benefits to sharing information. We collect performance information and I know that our colleagues in local authorities do. Sharing that would be beneficial, I'm sure.
We do share a lot with our partner authorities and do see them as partners, so we can bring benefits to the trunk road side; we can also bring benefits to the county side. So, there are mutual benefits to be had there. There are economies of scale, which are really importantto both parties. We've got 40 depots around Wales—that's quite a lot of resources, so it's really quite important. We also liaise—
The winter maintenance aspect is a joint effort between ourselves and the partner authorities. It's very much a combined gritting route, so we can share their depots and their salt barns and so on. Without that, it would be very difficult for us in such a rural area as ours, and a widespread area, to actually perform that duty just as the trunk road agent, without building more depots specifically for ourselves and so on. So, we do get the benefits of that shared resource.
Both SWTRA and ourselves are very good examples of regional collaboration between local authorities and with central Government. I think we've put that in our evidence, but it's a strong feeling amongst us and that we can bring benefits to all parties.
I think the cross-learning—. Back in 2005, you're probably aware that we were challenged by the previous Minister to come forward with efficiency savings of £14 million, which was around obviously the way we worked and obviously the scope of service. Whilst that was the focus for the trunk road network, a lot of the work we did in the establishment of business cases, we shared that information with our local authority supply chain partners, so collaboration, and learning from them from the work they've undertaken as well. So, that collaboration is happening; maybe there's an opportunity to formalise that.
And another thing is the on-site maintenance—things like grass cutting and gully emptying and so on. We've done a lot of benchmarking between the partner authorities because they all submit rates to us and we've been discussing those rates. Where we see high rates, we're able to discuss with them and see how they're doing something and why they're certainly more expensive than maybe their neighbouring authority, and we've been able to enact working practices that reduce costs for those partner authorities themselves as well.
And, of course, we work together, don't we, quite a bit, with frameworks and all sorts of initiatives, and quite closely with the Welsh Government?
Can we turn to the impact of maintenance programmes on road users? How do TRAs seek to minimise the impact on road users when delivering the maintenance programme—in particular how the current approach to planning and funding works affect this? Following on from that, how do TRAs currently approach the co-ordination of street works undertaken by utility companies and also co-ordination with local authority programmes? So, there's a mix there, isn't there, that you have to get right, basically?
If I can take the first question first then on the measures to minimise the impact. If you look at the network in south Wales, we have traffic volumes that range from 100,000 vehicles per day along the M4 motorway at Newport and then the more rural network in west Wales with 10,000 vehicles. Based on traffic flows, we look to minimise the impact on traffic.
We have a traffic sensitivity document that has been established to ensure that we know which times of day are permissible to put traffic management on the network without causing significant or any delay to the road user. Circa 50 per cent of our network is designated as night-time working now, as a result of that traffic sensitivity document. We've got evidence to show roughly anything ranging from 85 per cent to 72 per cent reduction in traffic between night-time and day time. That obviously is of significant benefit to the road user. That also allows us to have flexibility as well, when we're looking at how we minimise—.
We've been doing a lot of work through the efficiencies programme on comparing the cost and productivity of static lane closures as opposed to what we now term as nodal closures, where effectively we close a section of the road and have a diversion route at night. The balance is that whilst the diversion route is probably a longer route for the travelling public, it's fewer of the travelling public who are affected and we can do the work a lot quicker.
One of the examples that we have is, when we operated a nodal closure on the A465, we were able to save—compare 16 static lane closures against four night-time closures. So, 16 day-time against four night-time was a significant benefit when you look at the percentage reduction in traffic during night-time. There's a suite of measures around there where we're certainly considering the impact on road users.
The other point, I suppose, is if we move away from reactive maintenance. The difficulty we have is the unplanned element of our work. So, when we are dealing with deterioration in the surfacing, then that means we have to go out and respond to make the defect safe and, from our perspective, it's a lot easier if we can plan that intervention and then you're looking at maximising the—you know, you're here to do it, really.
You know we've been taking evidence from road users and they are suggesting that communication on planned roadworks and co-ordination could be improved. In particular, comments from the Owens Group, which said Highways England are very good at providing information, but there is very, very little communication from highway authorities in Wales. Evidence from Sustrans suggested that pedestrians and cyclists are poorly catered for in planned roadworks, with traffic management designed to cater for motor vehicles, whilst active travellers are at greater risk. Two questions there.
I think that was a little bit of a surprise for us, that comment, because we do engage with the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association, particularly with abnormal loads and roadworks. We do that quite often. Members will be aware that local authorities send out weekly bulletins for traffic management. We do the same: Traffic Wales website, Traffic Wales service, I think there's a new Traffic Wales website coming out later—
That's coming out in September, I think.
I think the gentleman from Owens transport was saying that the English transport authority actually communicates directly with the road users themselves. So, they'd be directly going to the larger users.
That's not our experience. We liaise with Highways England on the street works side. We moved street works in-house as part of the arrangements that Richard referred to earlier, and I think it's been a success. We deal with something like 21,000 notices a year. Those are requests for roadworks or information about roadworks. We go back on about 5,000 of those, sometimes it's overruns, so we spot there's a conflict, that sort of thing, and that information is put out in the public domain. What I have suggested to my colleagues in the street works team is that perhaps we suggest that they engage with the haulage association through the highways and utilities committee. That would be a good forum for them to meet up and perhaps find ways of engaging better.
I think they were suggesting that they had to be proactive in finding the information in Wales whereas they only have to be reactive with the information they get from traffic authorities in England.
And I think, through that dialogue, we can find ways of improving that.
I'll just come in and support David on that one, really. While there are developments planned in terms of how we communicate the information, I think we need to recognise that the Traffic Wales website has had, for a number of years now, published information regarding roadworks that could cause significant impact to the road user—the major schemes. There are developments that we talked about at the Public Accounts Committee, which is the emergence of the Elgin platform, which is through roadworks.org. There are some good news stories here in terms of where the Welsh Government has bought the licence for the Elgin platform and has also bought the data for the local authority roads as well. So, through the Welsh Government platform, we can see now the adjacent roadworks for all local authorities as well. So, the proposal is that this will be published through the new launch of the group. So, the road user will get a feel for—. There will be a searchable opportunity through this database to look at any road in Wales. So, they will look at the implications in terms of if there are any roadworks on the trunk road network, any associated diversion routes on the local road network. That information will be available.
Okay. And the comments that the pedestrians and cyclists are poorly catered for—anybody want to make a comment on that?
Obviously, we are aware of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, and that's important, but that requirement has been there since the early 1990s, really, through chapter 8 and what we commonly call 'The Red Book'. That's available to local authorities and the utilities as well. The utilities have got a statutory requirement to comply with that. We do send out audits to check compliance, and it's not just cyclists and pedestrians, you're looking at mobility issues as well, and equestrians in some locations. Before now, I'm aware that we've put horse boxes out to move people through roadworks in north Wales. So, that's something that utilities—. I'm not saying we're perfect. There's perhaps more work to be done on that, but it is something that we do look at.
A couple of other Members want to come in in a moment as well. In terms of the comments around communication that we had from the witnesses that we had two weeks ago, just to be clear: you don't agree with their comments in regard to their views on communication.
I think that some information is available. We were surprised that they said there was no information available. I think it can be improved upon, and certainly the Welsh Government has a clear strategy to improve that.
Well, the new website and the new platform that the Welsh Government have invested in will provide information in a lot clearer, searchable format, and I think that will allow road users to do a query on the route they are about to travel on and have a lot more information on it in terms of—
That's going live in the autumn, I understand.
And will that be a single website for any roadworks across the trunk road network and local authority network?
That's what roadworks.org does now.
That's what it does now. So, there is a single website that gives all the information.
And is the level of detail on that website sufficient enough in your view?
I think it's very comprehensive. The Welsh Government, in buying the data from the local authorities and putting it in with the trunk road network, is making a significant step forward. So, that will allow all the data to be in one place. We are aware that local authorities have had their own portal, but extracting the data to a single place, which will now be published via Traffic Wales, will be a significant improvement.
And that website will have clear dates and times on it about when the works take place.
Yes, it will.
I think also that the Traffic Wales service that's been transferred from the private sector to ourselves in this last year, we are starting to see the growth on that. There are Twitter feeds going out, and I think there's something like 27,000 followers. I think that was in May, or something like that. So, that seems to be growing over time. People seem to be responding well to the tweets that we are putting out.
Thank you. I've got a couple of other Members who want to come in on these points as well. Mark Isherwood first, and then I'll come to Lee. Mark.
Thank you. Richard Jones responded to David's question about minimising the impact on road users of maintenance programmes. Obviously, a few years ago, as north and mid Wales knows, there was a particular period on the A55 when there was disquiet when a number of major works coincided, causing joined-up impacts. That was maintenance, I think, and development programmes. What measures have been implemented in north and mid Wales since then to reduce the risk of that reoccurring?
I mentioned earlier that we've taken in internally the street works function from local authorities in regard to trunk roads, and that's had a beneficial effect. Certainly, on the A55, we liaise quite closely with Welsh Government—there's an escalation process, so, if we detect a conflict, we'll discuss it with Welsh Government officials and decide on an approach and a way forward. Over the last few years we've moved to pretty much 90 per cent of our works being done at night. So, similar sort of arrangements as Richard with the traffic sensitivity—we use chapter 8.4 to get the same effect, really. Most of the work's done at night now, really. So, you can have multiple roadworks out at that time without too much effect on the network overnight. Occasionally, we will have road closures and we do put diversions in place as well, which can be disruptive—there are winners and losers there. The majority of the public travelling on the A55 are diverted away and have free travel on the diversion route, but that does affect people in the local communities on those diversions, so, that's unfortunate.
Thanks. I'm just struggling a bit at the complacency of some of the answers there. We've presented you with two bits of evidence that this committee's had, one from Owens and one from Sustrans, and you've said that you're surprised by the comments and don't recognise the picture, and there's some manual that you've referred to, which you've always had. We have specific evidence that we've had that shows that the status quo is imperfect and you don't seem especially engaged by that.
Are you talking about trunk roads or local roads or—?
The question that David Rowlands just put to you, first of all about Owens, okay. So, rather than asking Owens to attend the committee meeting, would it be possible for you to pick the phone up with them and talk to them about this?
Because your understanding of the situation is very different from what they've told us.
Well, we have engaged. As I say, we have had meetings, specific project meetings, with the Freight Transport Association on specific schemes, particularly about abnormal loads, and we liaise with the police abnormal loads officer fairly regularly.
Okay, so you'll pick the phone up and speak to Owens about their evidence, will you?
We will ask our street works team and our Traffic Wales team to engage with the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, and anybody who wants to talk to us.
No. Would you proactively pick the phone up and speak to Owens? Because there's a profound disconnect between what you understand and what they told us.
Of course we will.
So, let's cut out the middle man, if you wouldn't mind speaking to them.
I'll be happy to do that.
What the Owens transport gentleman was saying is that the English transport authority actually directly contacts them themselves and tells them what's happening. And England's a much bigger area, obviously, so the information they're passing on is greater than you would have to in Wales. He was saying there was a direct link between the transport authorities in England and themselves, whereas you're dealing with just the organisations, aren't you, the freight organisations, rather than with direct customers. Now, obviously, a database of the most significant freight users could be built quite easily so that you could then directly connect with those about all the aspects of what's going on in Wales. Surely that could be done.
We acknowledge there is room for improvement and I think we are hopeful that the new launch of the website and the data will address some of those concerns. In terms of the context as well, under the current way we work, we issue a weekly roadworks bulletin out to strategic partners.
Well, there are 150 recipients in south Wales at the moment, and they include bus operators and local authorities. One issue we can look at, from this morning, is to see whether, as Dave suggested, through either the co-ordination meetings or through HAUC, the road haulage group or the Freight Transport Association would like to be added to that schedule. That's something that we can address. But also, we haven't been approached by them either, requesting that information. The others—you know, it's a two-way communication. Anybody who asks—
So, are there plans to build up a database of the road haulage people themselves? Each individual haulage—
Or do you see there's not a need for that, I suppose—that's what the question is.
I think it's a case of reviewing where we are with the change in the current process, where we have 150 recipients, and how the new process and the launch of the new website—that's something we need to look at to make sure that captures some of the issues that have been raised this morning.
Yes, I agree with what Richard's saying. It's something we can look at. We'll talk to Owens transport to see how they do it. Our experience with Highways England is somewhat different.
Thank you. So, just to return to the point around active travel, how have you changed your practice since the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 was passed? What implications has it had for you?
I think, in some ways, it's more of the same. We were looking at some of these things already. We're quite limited in what we can do. We don't have the major projects that perhaps you will be talking a little bit later about. We have small schemes. Quite often, we are getting community schemes that are driven by ministerial requirements, so we get involved in that respect.
There are some schemes—the A487 at Treborth recently, at Bangor to Parc Menai there. That's a cycleway and pedestrian scheme. As part of the tender there, the prospective tenderers had to tell us how they were going to build that project catering for pedestrians and cyclists who were travelling to Ysbyty Gwynedd, so that worked really well and we actually had praise from Ysbyty Gwynedd and the NHS for that particular scheme. So, there are things that we can do and do do all the time to progress active travel where we can.
Another scheme is the A494, Queensferry. We are actively engaging with Sustrans, Flintshire and Cheshire West and Chester. They have their active travel plans and we're sort of the corridor in the middle there and we are trying to make sure they get joined up as well. So, there are things that we can do.
But you're not doing anything now, since the Act was passed, that you weren't doing before?
Yes. I think some of these policy things, or the interpretation of the legislation into policy, can be brought through through things like the trunk road maintenance manual as well. But I think some of those things were already in place through chapter 8 and the Red Book—
So, what I'm trying to establish is: has this Act meant any practical changes to the way you work at all?
In design, I think that, quite a lot of the consultants now, they are conscious of it. I'm going back to my younger days when I was involved with design, and there wasn't much involvement with NM users—non-motorised users—but really that's very much at the forefront of thinking with designers now.
I think so.
So, do you require the designers, the contractors who work to you, to follow the design guidance that's part of the Act?
Yes. As far as I'm aware, yes.
It was just to support David on that point, really. The Act has given us the framework, really, to ensure that the non-motorised user assessment is undertaken on all community and all major interventions and schemes—
What's that, sorry?
Yes, it was, but it's—
So, what's changed since the active travel Act was passed? That's what I'm trying to get to.
From a maintenance perspective, I think I would support David, really; it's a lot of things we were doing. Obviously, we still have that line of sight through to the Act and we're still compliant and we see the Act as being a framework, endorsing what we've been doing previously.
Nothing significantly from the maintenance side of things, no.
Okay. But, in terms of the design guidance that's part of the Act, is that a stipulation for your contractors as well? Do you require them to comply with the new design guidance?
That's something I'd have to look into, because the scope of the designs that we have—. In terms of the major projects, we deal with the small improvements.
Because the evidence we had is that the design manual for roads and bridges is still being routinely used, and not the new design guidance under the active travel Act.
Right. That's something I'd have to go back and—
Could you go back and write to us about that? Can I just ask you also about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? There's no mention of it at all in the evidence from the South Wales Trunk Road Agent in your response to the committee. Mid Wales notes that you
'now apply the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG) process to all significant upgrade schemes'
and considers the Act
'as far, as is practicable...within relevant scheme designs.'
So, again, in practice, has that Act had any impact on the way you think and plan and work?
I think it has, and I think also the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 as well, which, I think, go together, very much so. And, again, quite often, we were doing some of these things already, and it's put it into a context for us now. The long-term planning: I see that translating through to our environmental side, where we're responsible for the soft estate. We deal a lot with tree diseases—for example, phytophthora ramorum and ash dieback—so, we see those as long-term projects, maintaining the woodlands on our soft estates. We do a lot—
But I think it helps to put a context in there. With the policy makers, perhaps that helps with getting resources there as well.
So, if I understand what you're saying correctly, there are things that you've always done, but now there's some legislation you can wrap around it to give a narrative to what you're doing. But, in practical terms, you're not doing anything differently than what you were doing before.
No, I wouldn't say that's correct.
It's helpful. It certainly does provide a context for getting a—
So, beyond providing a context, has it had any practical implications, changes, for the work that you do?
Yes, I think it will develop in the asset management plan that we'll see from the Welsh Government, coming forward, in that—
How? Or when?
Well, woodland management, for example, and green corridors. We hear talk of green corridors, but I think some of the things that we're engaged with, with other partners, like Cofnod and B-Lines projects—those sorts of environmental engagement projects—they can be pushed forward with under that umbrella from the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
Okay. Can I ask Richard Jones, as your evidence is completely silent on the Act, about what impact it's had on you and your thinking?
I think, in terms of its omission, it was almost a recognition of the change in responsibility between ourselves as an operator, maintainer and an advisory role to Welsh Government, as opposed to the policy-setting and strategic approach. We've been working closely with Welsh Government in the development of their asset management strategy, which will be launched this year, and you can see then the line of sight and the feel for the well-being of future generations Act, and how that's now going to embed into the work that we do. If we look at just certain themes of resilience, prosperity, a lot of the work we do supports those objectives. From our perspective, whilst we don't stipulate what works are undertaken—we just operate within that framework—we are conscious that a longer-term planning strategy will provide a more resilient network. It also provides benefits in terms of the prevention side of things as well. So, it's around giving clarity to a long-term asset strategy—so, something we've been asking for, really, moving away from the reactive, responsive type of work to more preventative, and we feel that the future generations framework will significantly support that.
So, by building more roads in the future, through a longer-term strategy, you'll support the economy, and that will help the future generations Act.
Building new roads is not within my remit. It's maintaining the existing network, as trunk road agencies. So, I offer no opinion on that side of the policy—
So, spending more money on maintaining roads will help support the economy, which will support the future generations Act. Is that what you're saying?
Well, I think what we're looking at now is that you have a £16 billion asset and, I suppose, if you're looking at future generations, unless we maintain that asset value, £16 billion, it will probably be unaffordable to build it from new. So, if we're going to provide a legacy to the future of an unmaintained asset, with no asset value, I think that would have a significant detrimental impact to the future generations.
But it's fair to say that, in your conversations with the Welsh Government, since the future generations Act has been passed, there's been no real request or a requirement for you to do anything different to what you were doing before.
I think this is around the delineation of responsibilities. We operate in accordance with Welsh Government's view. So, all the planning and prioritisation now is undertaken by Welsh Government. Our conversations have been around how do we feel the Act will support, and how we can, obviously, provide a line of sight to the activities, processes and procedures that we undertake, and how does that align then with the requirements of the Act. So, certainly, in the development of the new asset strategy, which Welsh Government will probably talk to you about later on, it features heavily within their document.
Just on maintenance, and we've already heard about that this winter has caused problems for the surface of the roads, do you think that could have been alleviated if there was sufficient run-off off the road? We all remember, don't we, people working alongside the road to clear ditches, for example, so that you could get that run-off. Has that had any impact whatsoever—the fact that the water might be contained for longer on the surface, rather than running off it?
If you could just answer that briefly—. Who wants to take that point? Richard Jones.
I think it's difficult, really, to make—. We know that water, in terms of the freeze-thaw cycle, does have an impact on the condition of the network; once there is a hole and water holds in it, then it will accelerate surface failure. But in terms of whether that's the—. I don't think that's the main driver for the issues that we have been facing. Some of the points we alluded to earlier on, really, around, obviously, material types, intervention, the strategy—. It certainly has a feature. We look at our maintenance interventions on the network in terms of drainage and cleaning, and that's contained within the trunk road maintenance manual.
Poor drainage can affect it in certain circumstances, but so can overladen vehicles. There are all manner of reasons, sometimes, for where you get structural failure on a road.
We're over a little bit and I've got some questions myself as well. David, a quick question.
I avoid using the road now, but Rover Way in Cardiff is a prime example of where maintenance can't have kept up over the years. We're not talking about recently now, but there's obviously been neglect for—it must be 10 years at least, because it's in such an appalling condition. Now, I know that there are certain parts of it where there are some little bits of remedial work going on there, but how does a road get into that condition when it's such a strategic road coming into Cardiff?
We don't want to go into too much detail on a particular road, but does anybody want to address that point?
It's not a strategic road; it's not part of our network, Rover Way. So, it's difficult for me to provide an answer on somebody else's—
You'll have to ask that question in the next session.
Can I ask—? You've gone into quite a bit of detail in terms of the budget process, which is good for us to understand and know. Is there anything beyond that that you think Welsh Government could do to better support the trunk road and motorway network, or better support you as a trunk road agency? What could they change or do differently to support you?
The asset management plan will certainly help, and by asset, as well, so that we can see how we're addressing that backlog that they mention and tie that to a financial strategy as well.
As we mentioned, following the transfer of the planning function to Welsh Government, the annualised programme now comes with a detailed brief from the Welsh Government planning team to the agent stipulating the works to be carried out. I think the communication between both parties has significantly increased, but the more detail and the more information that's provided about that brief—what Welsh Government require to be done, the strategy behind it, the aims of it—obviously, that communication and that information passing between us has greatly improved, and that continues to help to know what schemes are in the work programme ahead of us.
So, what do they need to do to change—keep doing that, or do something differently?
I think continue the progress that's been made. There's been a significant improvement. The communication between both parties is working very well. It can continue to build upon that with more detailed briefs and certainly, as we've mentioned, the asset management strategy will give that framework within which all of those schemes and that programme will sit.
Okay. Is there anything else beyond the budget process that you think Welsh Government can do differently to better support you?
I think that's a significant quick win, and, if we get that right, that would assist. We would see a significant change that would affect the timing of works, which would then affect, obviously, the impact on the road user and on the supply chains. It would address a lot of the concerns that have been raised by this inquiry.
Finally, in terms of local authorities, can local authorities do anything different to better support the road network across Wales in your view?
I suppose that's—. It's difficult. I mean, that's a matter for themselves, isn't it, in terms of their—. We feel and we've listened to evidence that they have the asset management plans in place. We're not sure what their funding arrangements are. There's a lot of close working happening with the local authorities and ourselves at the moment. Just one very quick example: what we've seen is that, even on trunk roads and the trunk road network, the litter picking or the environmental pollution duties lie with local authorities, and what we're seeing now are pockets of—. We've historically supported local authorities, because the biggest cost to that activity is traffic management. And what we're trying to do is work with the local authorities to support them, and offer them, through these modal closures now, the opportunity. And we've seen take-up start to increase now in that way, and that's a significant good-news story for everybody, where you have a significant number of resource utilising a single closure, minimising the impact, and also enhancing and benefiting the environment of that road.
And, finally, in terms of engagement with Assembly Members taking up constituency issues with you, do you think it's the right process to go via the Welsh Government to receive replies from you, or do you think that that could be changed?
I think it's—. The previous view was, and I think it's the right view, that, with Assembly issues, the previous Minister felt that it was right for the Welsh Government to respond to Assembly Member queries and we would support them. So, obviously, there's an overview then maintained by Welsh Government. We're happy to support Welsh Government in that way moving forward. I think that's a matter for Welsh Government to consider, really.
I think there's no problem in providing factual information, is there; sometimes all that's required is factual information.
Yes. It's one of the biggest issues in my postbag, and sometimes it's easier to ask for a meeting on site to discuss something, and it can be a bit of a cumbersome process to go through the Minister to get to that meeting taking place, which can resolve something perhaps quite easily in my view, but I take your answer on that. Thank you.
I'm very grateful for your time this morning. I think, Richard Jones, you offered an additional piece of information following a question from Lee Waters, so I'm grateful for that, and I'm grateful for your time with us this morning. Thank you very much.
We'll move to item 3 and I'll ask our witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.
I'm Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and the spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association on transport and infrastructure.
I'm Tim Peppin and I'm the director of regeneration and sustainable development at the WLGA.
So, what's your assessment of the condition of the local road network?
Generally, if I'm honest and blunt, I think that local authorities are doing the best job they possibly can, but, overall, there is significant room for improvement in terms of the condition of the asset. That is largely down to the funding that's available, certainly after the recent bad winters we've had, in terms of the condition of the actual carriageways. I think there's a significant backlog, as I think every member of the public is aware, out there, and it is a difficult choice for local authorities in terms of what we maintain.
When I talk about the asset, I would just bring into that that it isn’t just the condition of the roads—we've got bridges, which we're expecting at present to last probably in excess of 250 to 300 years, which is just totally unfeasible, in terms of the funding that's available. We have concrete columns, street-lighting columns, which are life-expired right across Wales, which are a safety issue and which need to be addressed. So, the backlog out there is really significant, but, obviously, local authorities are trying to do their best and the extra funding we've had, the £30 million this year, has been welcomed—from Mark Drakeford. Back a couple of years ago, the local government borrowing initiative, that saw a significant improvement and we were going in the right direction, but since we've reverted back now to our core budget, in effect, we've levelled off and probably deterioration is starting to set in again.
And would you agree that the local road network is in a worse condition than the trunk road and motorway network?
I would probably believe so. I wouldn't have said that, probably, a couple of months ago after the state of the A470 and some of the other main roads, following the bad weather we had, but the general condition of assets in terms of, like I say, if you take the whole infrastructure of local authorities into account, other than just the road surfaces—if you take footways et cetera and everything that's adopted by the public highway—I would say that, yes, we have a significant backlog, and I think that's recognised.
Just to add on that, if you look at the amount of funding available for maintenance of the motorway and trunk road network, it is substantially higher per kilometre than is available for local authority maintenance. That's understandable because they are high-speed road networks, and we need to make sure that safety standards are very high, but the lower level of funding that is available to maintain the network, especially for some of the more rural areas with very extensive unclassified networks, means that some of those roads do end up getting in a poor condition.
So, in a way, you've painted perhaps a bit of a bleak picture of the local road network. Do you think it's likely to improve or deteriorate further in the coming years?
As things currently stand, undoubtedly they're going to deteriorate further. It's just the—. Depending on the level of investment, and also depending on the impact of winters, et cetera, that will determine the level of deterioration and the pace of deterioration.
If I could just say one point—. Local authorities are trying to invest in preventative measures, using the highways asset management plans to identify, but the choice, for example, for me—. I cover highways in my own authority. The choice I have is either surface dressing roads that are coming to the end of their life and, by surface dressing them, they could last another five or 10 years and they'd be quite fit and safe to use or, if I don't invest funding in that area, do I fund the streets that have already failed and the roads that are already dangerous? So, if there's a safety defect and a risk to the public in terms of potential claims et cetera and I fund a road that has already failed, which can't just be patched up and needs resurfacing, that's money I haven't got to spend on preventative measures to extend the road. So, we are continually—I think, at present, we're in a spiral and it's only going in one direction.
What the local government borrowing initiative did show us was that if you invest at a substantial level over a number of years—that was a three-year initiative—then it does impact, because we saw an improvement in the A, B and C road condition over that period. But what we need is a way of finding a sustainable source of income that every year will maintain that investment. Because, if you stop investing in the asset, conditions will affect the network and it will start to deteriorate again.
The Local Government Association, our sister organisation, has put forward a suggestion that 2p of the fuel duty should be earmarked for highway maintenance, and we'd be supportive of that approach. We'd obviously want a consequential for Wales then and we'd be happy to have discussions with Welsh Government over whether or not we could identify a way of having a regular source of investment in the highway network, because we can see that that is what is needed to prevent problems reoccurring.
Why are the figures reported by local authorities across Wales indicative of quite a wide variation, for example, in potholes? In some cases, some of the apparently lower-funded local authorities have a better record than some of the better-funded authorities. Is that down to borrowing? What other factors apply?
I think there will be a range of factors. In some cases, it's because of the nature of the network. So, some rural authorities have got very extensive areas and it's very difficult for them to maintain the whole of their asset. In other cases, you do see examples of where local authorities have undertaken prudential borrowing and made it a priority locally and invested in that area, so they will see an uplift for the period of that investment.
Can I just say that it does very much depend on what sort of network you have? If I give an example from our authority, we've got the A4119, which carries 22,000 vehicles every peak morning and evening—the dual carriageway up from the M4. We've had to extensively resurface that in recent years. But then you look at the mountain roads we have in my authority—the Bwlch, the Rhigos and Maerdy—all three have been resurfaced by my council in the last two years, costing us around £2.5 million, but that isn't down to the volume of traffic they have, it's because during the winter that road really takes a hammering. Quite often we have to close it because it's not safe for our snow ploughs. When you're using heavy plant to remove snow and ice off the road, that damages the surface. So, I think the level of maintenance is very much about the kind of geography we have in terms of the types of roads and their usage as well.
Thank you, Chair. Going back to the point you made earlier, Andrew, about asset management, I'm interested to dig a bit deeper there, really, to see how much austerity has had an impact. We've taken evidence from the University of Leeds saying that, if we rely solely on reactive maintenance, it can cost between 17 and 19 times more than a planned approach. So, clearly, in the long run, effective asset management is by far the cheaper option, but are you saying that the impact of austerity upon your budget really precludes local authorities from being able to deliver those effective asset management approaches?
Yes. Having the HAMP—the highways asset management plan—in place, I think, is fundamental. It was something that was rightly said to all local authorities at the time the local government borrowing issue was brought in: 'You have to have that in place to make sure that you can determine that where you spend any money is getting the biggest impact on the network.' I think I'm right in saying that all local authorities have maintained that approach.
The issue as I identify it, in terms of surface dressing versus resurfacing—all that is doing at present is showing us the scale of the problem. By using the highways asset management plan, while it does help us to prioritise where we should spend our funding, it just simply means that we know there's a vast problem out there. We know, for example, that there are hundreds of bridges in Wales with monitoring on. Some, if they're not replaced in the coming years, will either be closed—because they simply are under risk assessment, which means that they can't continue to be used, there are weight limits, et cetera—or there will be risk of catastrophic failure at some point if a lorry went over a bridge that is structurally unsound.
But just in terms of funding, our core funding as local authorities is currently now 36 per cent lower than what it was in 2010. So, for my authority, we have £6.1 million a year less in capital funding than we had eight years ago. So, I have to then—and all other council leaders and their cabinets—determine where to spend that money in terms of schools, roads and other capital projects—maintenance, I should say, rather than new. So, because of the fact that we are having contracting capital budgets, it is difficult for us, even with a HAMP in place, to determine where to spend that funding. If you looked at a traffic lights section, in terms of your reds, ambers and greens, I would say that we have got 10 times as many reds as what we can fund, whereas actually we should be funding the ambers to stop them from getting into reds. That's the kind of approach that we need to look at.
Okay. There's also been a suggestion that, if the WLGA believes that a lack of consistent funding is an issue, they should move to multiannual budgets. What would be your view on that and any barriers to that?
Absolutely. It should be a multi-year budget. We've been calling on the Welsh Government, in terms of local authority funding first of all, to be multi-year. With capital, I know that we have had a two-year indicative with the figures. We really would like to move probably to a three-year budget. It would give us better time to plan. So, in terms of looking at your highways asset management plan, you can then determine how much money you would have next year. Therefore, it is a better way of planning it. It is a better way of procuring the work.
Also, if we are looking to do projects, for example, on bridge structures—I keep coming back to that because I know it is a significant issue—quite often, replacing a bridge can take up to three years, in terms of the design, the procurement, before you let the tender and you start the construction work. It would be difficult for a local authority to not know how much funding they have next year and to commit to spending several hundred thousand pounds this year to design and procure a contractor to repair or renew a bridge, not knowing if they have got the funding next year to deliver the bridge. So, when you are looking to invest in infrastructure, you do need guaranteed funding on a plan.
In some areas and some grants, the Welsh Government does that. But it is difficult. If I could just turn to one area, for example: the £60 million for active travel. It is really welcomed. The figures we've been given are £60 million over three years, so £10 million this year, £20 million next year, rising to £30 million in year 3. We've had those figures. We've been assured that that's what the additional funding will be. However, the core funding for active travel, which is within the local transport fund element—we don't know what it's going to be next year. So, we don't know what our core budget is going to be for the next three years, but we know what the extra funding is going to be for the next three years. That's not a way for us to build a plan.
It's very interesting that that's your viewpoint, because we've just heard from the trunk road agencies, which have been calling for multiannual budgets for quite some time. The evidence that they gave today was the reverse. They feel now that because they are getting some additional funding from Welsh Government towards the end of the year, they prefer to stick with that annual budget in the hope of getting that extra windfall. So, would it not worry you that, if we move to multiannual budgets, perhaps things like the additional £30 million that was given by Welsh Government for local road maintenance this winter could then be at risk?
But surely we shouldn't be maintaining one of the biggest assets in Wales on a windfall. We should be properly structuring the funding going forward. So, that £30 million, for example, while absolutely welcomed—. I was part of the discussions and the lobby for it, and I met with the finance Minister, and I have to say that he accepted our case that, on that £30 million, we very clearly said that we felt it was invest-to-save, if you look at, first of all, insurance claims rising for local authorities, further damage in terms of potholes et cetera, but also, then, trips and falls, and hidden costs to the NHS et cetera. So, we clearly saw that as invest-to-save. But, I would much rather know at the start of the year—so, come April—if that £30 million was going to be there next year. I could sit down with my officers, and other local authorities could do the same across Wales, and plan that maintenance for next year, rather than putting a programme together where we think we'll do the best we can with the funding that we have, and lo and behold, in the last or eleventh hour—or in the fifty-ninth minute of the last hour, I should say—we're told, 'You have this chunk of money, but here are the conditions in spending it'. That's not the way to plan for asset management.
To ensure a unified approach across Wales, what do you think of the suggestion from Leeds university that there should be a common approach to asset management and a single set of performance indicators and data that could be used on the Welsh network to better focus investment where it is needed?
I think that, generally, we would support and accept that. I think that since the use of the HAMPs is now in place, that's the point we are trying to get to. I don't know if Tim wants to add anything on that.
Yes. There's a new code of well-managed highways that local authorities need to adopt by September or October of this year, and I think the HAMPs play into that very well. You have a standard you're working towards and then your HAMP can make sure that you're investing to hit the standard. So, having that across Wales will be a much improved approach, because, at the moment, there's always a danger that people do things to a different standard. I think having a common approach is always going to be better.
Thank you. And one final question, Chair, if that's okay. In relation to the annual local authority road maintenance survey, I'm wondering whether you think there's a benefit in encouraging more local authorities to complete it, and if not, what alternatives would you suggest to allow the public to compare the performance of local authorities?
I think, generally, we would welcome it, but we need to bear in mind that, obviously, they've got a vested interest. But I think that the very fact that all local authorities, or most local authorities are taking part in the survey—. Actually, if everybody did, it would be a more informed outcome that we could compare and look at. But there are a number of ways, through local authority reporting data back to the Welsh Government—a lot of the data is reported anyway and captured in other ways. But, personally, I think that the ALARM survey is helpful. But, as I say, we must recognise that they've obviously got a vested interest in that.
I was just going to add to that, because, in Wales, most local authorities don't complete it. I think 36 per cent is the figure for Welsh local authorities, but across the UK, it's much higher as a figure. I think it is helpful information. Are there reasons why a local authority wouldn't, apart from just the time resource to complete the ALARM survey?
I think time resource will be a factor. There's also the fact, as Councillor Morgan says, that there are recordings done anyway via things like the SCANNER survey, which are looking at the road condition across Wales. And if you're already collecting the data in one format, probably authorities can only put their resources into doing it in one way.
Can I just say—? Back a number of years ago, I remember, I think it was Sue Essex who brought in a three-year fund—I think it was £15 million a year for a local roads improvement fund. We had £15 million a year for three years, probably going back eight, maybe 10 years ago now at least. During that time, the SCANNER surveys were a compulsory part of that, so that you had to then scan your network, using the machine on the front of a lorry, to actually assess whether or not a road is failing. It detects microcracks in the surface et cetera, the texture, when it's braking down. That survey work is still going on now, so we collect all that data, which is fed in. That helps us then inform our A, B and C roads outcomes and our percentages.
Thank you. Councillor Morgan, in some of your earlier answers, you referred a few times to structures and bridges. In my experience as someone who lives in Powys, the local authority frequently—. You'll find, overnight, a bridge on a small road closes. There are significant diversions in place. The local authority's in a difficult position, because it's a large investment to make that repair. I think that's probably what you were, perhaps, referring to in your answer. But is there any data available about the condition of structures, and, if so, where is that published?
It'll be recorded as part of each local authority's individual HAMP.
Highways asset management plan, which all authorities need to complete. So, that, for example, comes to our cabinet on an annual basis. We have a big map, and it's got a register, and it basically shows every structure, the condition, what's the priority, and if they're red. It will have everything for determining our areas of roads—A, B and C and unclassified network—that are in need of improvement. So, that's the living document that is updated every year and we have to, I believe, put that into the Welsh Government from local government.
And is that published every year, or is it just part of the cabinet agenda that is public?
I think I'm right in saying that it's published. It's certainly published as part of the cabinet agenda as a document. I think it's published on the website, but I don't believe we're required to publish it. But I'm not quite sure. We could check and come back on that.
As far as I'm aware, there isn't a regulation for us to publish it on local authority websites, so I couldn't tell you if local authorities do or don't. But we could check and come back on that.
As was said before, it has been linked to funding in the past. So, during the LGBI, it was a requirement to have your HAMP in place. With the £30 million that's been announced, again, the letters that came out with that said, 'This must be used in accordance with your HAMPs.' So, there is a requirement on local authorities in drawing down the funding to have them in place. So, yes, it is an assessment of all the assets, what needs doing and what the priorities are so that you make sure your expenditure is going on the right things.
I wouldn't expect you to know the answer, but if you are able to find that answer out in terms of what other local authorities are doing about publishing that data, that would be useful. David Rowlands.
Can we turn to the funding and delivering major local highway enhancement projects? You've mentioned you've got shrinking budgets, so obviously it's critical that any moneys you have are spent in the very best way. It's been suggested that the procurement process and speed of decision making on major highway enhancement projects are key factors limiting value for money in delivery of the schemes. Is there an effective pipeline for local highway projects? And if not, why not?
With regard to delivering major highway projects, that's all but gone from local authorities. If you consider back when we had regional transport consortia, we were talking about a £119 million or £120 million a year budget—
Yes, that is massively reduced now. We do deliver one or two projects in collaboration with Welsh Government, but we have frameworks in place in terms of the bidding lots for the works. But, actually, in terms of delivering major highway schemes, they are now few and far between.
So, in terms of procurement, obviously, if you've got an annual budget, the timescale for going out to tender, making the award and then getting the actual works undertaken limits the ambition, if you like, in terms of what can be achieved in a year, which goes back to this point about having a longer term for procuring and delivering schemes. So, certainly for larger schemes, you do need a much longer time frame for that work, effectively. The use of frameworks is one way: you have pre-qualified contractors on a framework that you can call off without going through the full process, so that can short-circuit it.
Can I just say as well that, sometimes, it's helpful—if we have multi-year settlements, if we are doing a significant project, it needs to roll through financial years, and the difficulty is that, even where we may get an indication that there would be funding following a second year, obviously our financial years start from April and it can be as late as May before we get grant approvals? So, if we are deciding to run a contract through two financial years, local authorities are doing it at risk and bankrolling a project on the proviso that we expect to get grant approval for the second year of the scheme, and that can be difficult. In particular, for example, we've had it with Safe Routes in Communities. You get a large scheme around a catchment area—maybe a £500,000 or £600,000 scheme; it may be funded over two years, but the letter for the grant for the second year doesn't always come until a month or two into the new financial year. So, it does limit—. If I wanted to do a multimillion pound scheme, I would be doing that at risk without any authorisation in terms of Welsh Government grant.
Okay. Let's look at that £190 million going down to £27 million. You've already said, Andrew, that the Welsh Government are taking over some major schemes within that, and of course you've got the availability of the grant schemes like the local transport fund. So, with the Welsh Government doing something like the Five Mile Lane in the Vale of Glamorgan and the eastern bay link road in Cardiff, funds are being used there that might have come to you at that time. It seems to me—why should the Welsh Government give you further funding when you've got those things in place?
Sorry, I don't understand.
Well, for instance, the local transport fund is there, and, if they are taking over these major projects, really, your funding isn't diminishing, is it?
No, I'm sorry, I totally disagree with that. To put it in context, depending on the local transport fund—it's been topped up with some additional funding, but it was around £15 million across all 22 local authorities in Wales. So, my authority would get about £980,000 out of that. So, for example, we're building the cross-valley link in the Cynon Valley. That's a £12 million bridge. So, we've had funding from the local transport fund now for three years as contributions, we've been largely matching or exceeding that from local authorities' own budgets, but if we've got other works now—. We've got a list of projects we would like to see: junction upgrades, capacity improvement at roundabouts, but these roundabout improvements—I think the one in Caerphilly, I believe, is costing £4 million. Well, if we want to put forward those sorts of projects—well, if I was just going to bid to the Welsh Government, and we're the second-largest authority in Wales, so we get a significant share pro rata out of the fund, it would take four years of funding from the Welsh Government to upgrade one roundabout. I think that answers your question.
If I can add as well, I think increasingly we're working on the economic action plan on a regional level, which links into the work that the city regions are doing, and that work is identifying what the key priorities are for each region. To some extent, who actually is responsible for the scheme is a secondary issue to getting agreement on what the priorities are. So, provided that the Welsh Government and the local authorities in the region are of a mind that, 'This is the plan, here are the priorities', then it's more a question of getting the funding allocated and then local authority and Welsh Government working together on the delivery.
Okay. Can I turn to the mutual investment model possibly providing an alternative source of funding for major local enhancement projects? Given the fact that Capital Law has said that,
'one struggles to see how a local authority, whose procurement function is geared towards lower-ticket items'
—and I think they mentioned that private enterprise wouldn't really be interested in schemes that are under £300 million, from memory—do you see it as any way helping you to raise funding for projects?
I don't, not on a local authority basis. Clearly, it's working for the Welsh Government in terms of Heads of the Valleys and other projects on that sort of scale, but on a local authority basis, not for highway infrastructure. I don't really see that as a viable option for us. Clearly, we're using the MIM model now for twenty-first century schools, again because of the scale within local authority, but I think this is more for transport for the Welsh Government. That's my current feeling.
I think, as we focus more on small-scale schemes and schemes that can be done within a year, which are more on the routine end of things, the model is perhaps less appropriate.
Yes, I think, given that £300 million, it probably does take you out of the picture on those schemes.
I'm going to move on now to when you do spend some money on highway programmes, there is an impact on road users, and we've had evidence that it's really important to minimise that impact. How effective do you think that local government is with their current approach about letting people know when work is happening? That's one part. The second part is probably when they actually do the work to minimise it. That's the second part.
In terms of the first one—notifying the public—I think it's a mixed picture. Some have got best practice, I think. Ideally, we'd like to see, on significant projects, advanced signage put out weeks in advance to notify people. I think local authorities are using more around social media now to try and get the message out, with local newspapers either almost disappearing or their circulation going. That previously would have been, I think, the main means of telling the public. But it is, I think, a lot now: websites, social media—they do try to inform local councillors. I know my authority does. I think most authorities would inform the local member so they can get any feedback in advance of any major schemes that will cause traffic impact. I accept, I think, it's probably a mixed picture. Of course, we do statutory consultation as well on certain schemes, and the statutory consultation then involves all the emergency services, bus operators et cetera, but it's how far you take that then.
So, that's one part—so 'it could do better' is the answer. But when you actually do the work, which is the second part, how do you think that local government is faring in terms of trying to time their work in hours of the day?
There's an awful lot of work that goes on in the day that ideally could be and should be done at night. The issue with that is the extreme cost, and it is local authorities balancing that off. So, in some areas, we can do work at night, and that does happen. We are constrained by public health and environmental health—if it's near housing properties et cetera, we can't be doing loud work. You can't have jackhammers and machinery working outside houses late at night. It is a mixed picture of what we can and can't do in terms of trying to minimise the impact, but there is probably a lot more that we could do, I think, as all public sector, but it does very much come at a cost, if you're paying premium rates for contractors or staff to work evenings and weekends. So, every project needs to be analysed on that basis.
Have you given any consideration—? We had evidence this morning from Welsh trunk road agencies, for example, that they're compiling a website where all the information about proposed work and ongoing work could be placed, so that whomsoever you are, you can access that to know where you might be inconvenienced or where you might need to not even travel into that area. Do you think that that's a possibility for local government?
It would probably be helpful if there was just one site where that could be accessed, and I can't tell you about all local authorities, but most local authorities, like my own, have a weekly roadworks page. So, you could go on there now today and it would tell you about, over the next seven to 10 days, every utility and every local authority excavation, whether it's traffic lights or road closures, and it will tell you the extent of the time that they've applied for.
So, with the new regulation now, if a water board comes in and says that they're going to dig a street up, they have to tell us how long they're going to be in there, and if they go over that time period, we then can issue fines, and in some cases, substantial fines. But all that information is collated. I couldn't tell you if every local authority does that, but I do know a number of authorities do it, including mine. And that is published and updated on a weekly basis, but that is only for the one local authority. If you've got 22 local authorities doing it, if you're a haulier crossing Wales, delivering stuff to several counties away, it would probably be helpful if they were able to access it as a central point.
Okay. If I could just have one second more. Very few journeys begin and end in the same local authority. When I go home today, I'll have gone through Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire—I'll exclude the motorway—so is it not time for a bit of collaboration? If I was going further north, I'd have gone through Ceredigion as well. So, is it not time for some collaboration? I know that you won't be the main arterial road, because that would be trunk road, but you could affect it. That is, I suppose, the point, because if you had works on a road, that somebody was going to take off that main arterial road, then you could cause an impact on another authority.
I would argue that an awful lot of collaboration is going on between highways authorities. I could give numerous examples where authorities have delayed works in one of their own counties or brought forward works because of impacts with others. And that goes the same with Network Rail. When we're with Network Rail, who, I have to say, are probably one of the worst in terms of bridge works, they say they're coming for a month and you can guarantee that they'll be there for a year. We make sure that we keep well away from doing any works in the time when they come, because we know that there's a likelihood of overrunning of works and the impact of closing bridges, so we do try to minimise it.
But sometimes—I come back to the point that, resurfacing works you could put off, potentially, and you could do the potholes to make a road at least safe on a temporary basis, but in some cases, when you're looking at bridge structures—. If I can give you one large example that Merthyr Tydfil led on and it affected my authority, and we had to jointly fund it. That was the bridge off the A470 at Abercynon roundabout. The bridge bearings were failing at that point. It was a £2.5 million scheme. We delayed it from—I think we did it last year, so it was delayed from the year before, because we liaised with the Welsh Government on some other issues. We made sure that we did that bridge, though, before Cedar Tree roundabout started, because we knew that that was starting this year, so there was really a window we had to get it in. However, that bridge—and I can say, now, because it has been repaired—was critically an issue in terms of, potentially, that bridge—it wouldn't have had a catastrophic failure, but there were some serious issues with the bridge, because that design of bridge is that it's like a huge viaduct. It was built by the Government when the A470 was built, but it was one of the few bridges that were just built to earthquake standard and it sits on balancing mechanisms, because it's in a mining area. But because those mechanisms were failing, there was a risk that that bridge could drop by up to two feet. Well, it could have been a case of an articulated vehicle driving on to that bridge and the whole bridge deck going down two feet. So, we had to very carefully have weekly monitoring, at a cost, on that bridge, making sure that we could do that bridge in between all the other things that were going on, and that window became a priority for us, because of the safety aspect.
Yes, so there is collaboration, but it's not comprehensive in all cases.
There have also been examples of collaboration between the trunk road agencies. I think when you mentioned the roundabout—
So, for example, in Merthyr—
That's fine. Don't go into too much detail because we're pushed for time, but if you want just briefly say.
I was just going to say that one of the things we're doing with the trunk road agency in particular is that it's about the impact on the public and the cost. So, if they are going to do a series of, say, street lighting repairs, which they're responsible for, and they're cordoning off a lane, we will go in and do the grass cutting and the litter-pick and a road sweep, or gully emptying the same time. So, we try to put council resources on the trunk roads at the same time as they are doing lane closures or full closures. There's less impact on the public and we only pay for the traffic management once. So, there is a lot of that going on.
We're a bit pushed for time. I've got Mark for a quick question and then I'll come to Lee. Mark Isherwood.
Thank you. When we put the question about minimising impact on road users to the trunk road agency earlier, they talked about late-night working, which you've referred to, they talked about route diversions, and they talked about working with local authorities. For road users, whether it's local authority networks, trunk roads or motorways, it's a single road network. So, how, alongside the measures you've already referred to, do you work with yourselves, with other authorities and the trunk road agency, to address the timings issue to avoid a bunch of bottlenecks coinciding at the same time, rather than planning this sequentially to minimise disruption?
We do this, I think, through our senior highway engineers across all local authorities, who meet on a regular basis to discuss projects that are coming out. We input that in with the Welsh Government. We do have a fairly good relationship with the trunk road agency in terms of sharing upcoming works. Obviously, they do have to do stuff sometimes as an emergency, and we have to try and change our plans if they have to do an emergency closure overnight or for a period of time. But it's done through our senior highway officers across the local authorities. They do liaise with the trunk road agency.
I couldn't tell you—. I don't think it's a formalised arrangement. It's more of an informal arrangement. But I have to say that I think it works reasonably well.
Thank you. I just want to ask about some sustainability issues. I'm just looking at your written evidence and you make the point that, in terms of active travel, most active travel journeys take place on local roads, and you're saying that should be reflected in the funding for local roads. Just in terms of how the active travel Act has practically impacted on the way that local authorities behave, clearly one of the obligations is the duty of continuous improvement. When you are maintaining roads, is there scope, and have you started looking to see how you can improve cycle and pedestrian facilities as you maintain?
Yes, generally, when we're not just maintaining, but when we're upgrading. So, for example, on puffin crossings, toucan crossings, et cetera, that is taking place as part of the design standards that we now use to look at. So, it's about what is affordable to a certain extent, in terms of the level of an upgrade, but wherever possible, certainly on new construction, that is always built in as part of it.
The one thing we have to bear in mind is that, sometimes, if you are building, we need to look at the geography as well, to make sure we're not just building some active travel link in isolation, which doesn't actually link anything. We need to understand that using our active travel maps, which we submit and get approved by the Welsh Government, if those maintenance or upgrading works form part of that linkage that it makes absolute sense to build that in as part of that work, to do it once to save cost.
In effect. What I would say is, and my understanding is, that they are, in a way, overlaid in terms of looking at where those current plans are and the future plans for active travel links, and then, if there is upgrading or maintenance work that coincides with that, I think the local authority has pretty much always tried to take the opportunity, if they can, to factor that in as part of the upgrading.
Okay. Well, they certainly should, and I'm just interested in the extent to which that is actually happening.
I think the biggest issue it comes back to is sometimes the cost. It depends; if a local authority is only funding the upgrade of a crossing, for example, ideally, not only with a toucan crossing, you probably want to go much further in terms of improving the actual links to that crossing point. But it does depend on what budget is available and how far you can extend the upgrade and the improvement.
It's the budget for the works and the budget for the ongoing maintenance as well, because whilst an extra stretch of road will be reflected in your revenue support grant calculation, some of the active travel enhancements don't get reflected, but they still create a maintenance liability.
So, our revenue support grant gets an allocation for every mile of road that we get, but we can have miles and miles of cycle track, potentially, which are not counted, but they still may need a flail cutter to go up and down to cut the hedges back; you may have motorbike access points that have been put in in the past and taken out or changed; and all those links need litter picking. All the maintenance of those don't feature anywhere in our RSG funding formula—or largely they don't. So, that is obviously a further revenue cost on local authorities, which we have to then pick up.
Is this one of the reasons why local authorities were reluctant—? In the initial network maps that were done under the Act, some local authorities put a de minimis network in because it didn't comply with what they saw as the design standard. Was that one of the reasons they were hesitant, because they were committing to a maintenance liability?
I think that might have been a consideration, but I think the other thing was a fear of raising expectations, because the minute you put a map out that suggests that this network will be in place, there's an expectation that that's going to be delivered at some point, and it is so dependent on the money being available. I think authorities were a bit cautious in terms of taking it one step at a time.
Well, they certainly were. Just in terms of maintenance as you go, you just made the point there, Councillor Morgan, that you try and upgrade where you can, but, for example, things like—. So, I take your point about, wouldn't it be nice to have the linkages into a new crossing? But things like advanced stop lines, which could be put in as a road was—. If you're putting new dressing on the road, for example, you could put an advanced stop line in. Are things like that being systematically considered when you're developing your maintenance plans?
If I was honest, I'd have to say that I don't think that is the case across the board, no. I think that in some isolated locations across a number of authorities, that is being looked at and implemented, but universally, across all local authorities, probably not.
So, the design guidance that is now part of the Act—the active travel design guidance—is not being used as part of the road maintenance programme routinely.
Possibly, but if I was honest, I'd have to go back and get individual opinions from local authorities in terms of what they are, individually, doing. I know that in some local authorities they are doing that, but I couldn't tell you honestly that that is a universal approach, no.
Okay, so what would need to change for that to happen on a more consistent basis?
There would be a small additional cost in terms of doing that as part of the works, but it would make absolute sense to do it as part of a resurfacing scheme, while the cost obviously would be line-marking, people are on site, et cetera. It may well be that we just need to go back to local authorities and determine who is using that guidance as part of their upgrading maintenance works and what is the fuller picture across Wales.
It would be very helpful if you could do that—if we could have some kind of audit of how that's being done in practice.
Can I just ask finally about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? One of the practical things that has happened is that the future generations commissioner has worked with the Welsh Government on the new WelTAG, the Welsh transport appraisal guidance. What practical difference do you think that new guidance will make to the way that you work?
I think that the review of WelTAG was done to incorporate the thinking of the well-being of future generations Act into the WelTAG approach. So, when people are working through that guidance now, which they have to follow if they're funded by the Welsh Government, they should be thinking through the goals of the Act and the ways of working, so that comes in upfront. I think the difference is that, in the past, you'd get this after-the-event justification, where you tried to say why you'd done things and explained away at the end. Now it's brought the thinking to the beginning, so when you're planning the scheme, you actually have to think about health impacts and carbon reduction—they are thought about upfront. If there has been a difference, I would say that that is the difference—bringing the thinking upstream.
My understanding is that, under the old WelTAG, there was a stage 1 appraisal, which had a look at these wider things. So, it became a sort of tick-box exercise and, surprisingly, by stages 2 and 3, the scheme that was always going to happen was the option chosen. How, in the way that this has been designed, are you making sure that you don't end up with a similar tick-box exercise? So, how will the outcomes be different?
I think, if you can design with principles in mind, then that follows through then. If you start off with a design and then try, after the event, to rationalise why you've done something, you will end up with a less sustainable—
It does tend to happen, but I think the Act is trying to put the emphasis on making sure you've done the consultation, you've involved the relevant people and you've thought about the preventative aspects of what you're trying to do. If that is done properly upstream—. It's a subtle change, but it's quite significant when it's done properly.
How confident are you, on a scale of one to 10, that that'll actually result in different outcomes?
I would say about eight, if it's done properly.
Well, that's quite a caveat, isn't it? How confident are you that it's going to be done properly?
I think, increasingly, we are seeing that the well-being of future generations Act has had an impact across local authorities. If you look at council reports now, it's referred to in pretty much all the major reports that go forward—they show how that has been taken into account in the scheme design.
Can I just say that because it is heavily linked to the Welsh Government grant funding, it has to be in there and it has to be taken into account?
But are they challenging on that? Are they monitoring how the outcomes are different as part of that?
I would certainly say that we do get challenged in terms of when we put in funding bids. Quite often, our officers meet the Welsh Government civil servants in terms of going through the projects and determining why we got to that point. So, there is a challenge process in place. How robust that is is yet to be seen across all local authorities, but there certainly is a challenge process there.
And the office of the future generations commissioner is also observing how these things are panning out.
And if I could ask very, very briefly: in terms of what the Welsh Government could change in terms of the road network, is there anything else you think they should change that you've not already addressed during questions this morning?
It comes back to sustainable funding.
Okay, thank you. Can I thank you both for your time this morning? We're very grateful. We'll take a nine-minute break—if we can be back by 11:05. Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:56 a 11:06.
The meeting adjourned between 10:56 and 11:06.
I'd like to welcome Members back and members of the public who are watching in, and we move to item 4 in regard to our inquiry on the state of roads in Wales. I'd like to welcome our panel this morning, which includes the Cabinet Secretary, Ken Skates. I'd be very grateful if your officials could introduce themselves for the record.
I'm Simon Jones, director of economic infrastructure.
Andy Falleyn, deputy director on transport for major projects.
Sheena Hague, deputy director, network management.
Judith Cole, deputy director, local government finance policy.
Apologies that Alun Davies can't be with us today, Chair, but, if there are any further questions that Members have, he's said that he will be happy to respond.
I'm very grateful for that, and I understand, Judith, that you work within Alun's directorate, and I understand that Alun Davies is also able to answer questions quickly should we write to him as well if that's needed. Can I ask, Cabinet Secretary, why is the state of the local road networks in a far worse state than the trunk road and motorway network in your view?
I think it often comes down to funding but also planning. I think evidence shows now that the condition of the structural integrity of trunk roads is improving, but instances of failure due to, for example, potholes due to inclement weather have increased of late. That's no surprise, given the winter that we've just had. The situation is different with local roads, in part due to the unhypothecated nature of funding for roads maintenance. But local authorities spent something in the region of £200 million in the last financial year maintaining roads.
Local democracy determines where spending should be prioritised, and I wouldn't wish to steamroller through a decision over roads maintenance through local government. I think it's essential that that local democracy and local accountability for decision making is maintained.
And do you think that the state of local roads is going to improve or deteriorate?
We've allocated a one-off additional resource to address the challenges that came this winter, and the two events that took place were exceptional. The beast from the east and storm Emma were particularly challenging for local authorities—indeed, for us as well. So, the £30 million has helped in that regard, and an extra £2.5 million to deal with the potholes due to storm Emma. That's assisted in addressing some of the backlog and immediate challenges posed by inclement weather. But the reality of the situation is that, unless we had a guarantee that our budgets won't be cut, a guarantee that austerity was to end, it's impossible to give a guarantee that local authority spending will improve to such a degree as to ensure that the condition of roads improves.
But everything's being done to better plan road maintenance—a better degree of collaboration. We're going to be making changes to various measures in the autumn. We're trialling hybrid materials for noise reduction surfaces, which I think have not been as resilient as other road surfaces, and therefore we've seen deterioration and degradation of those types of surfaces. But, with the testing of new surfaces, new materials, I think we could expect to see greater resilience. Is there anything to add, Sheena or Judith?
On the road surfacing and durability, many years ago we used to put some surfacing down called hot rolled asphalt, and it used to last a very long time, but one of the impacts of that is noise for residents. So, then we moved to a quieter surfacing, but it's got less durability—about half the durability of the hot rolled asphalt. So, we're now looking to see where can we put the best surfacing in the right place so that the customer is not upset, but it also gives us that durability as well once we put it back on to the network. So, we're looking at all different policies and trials at the moment, and we'll be able to come out with some information on that later this year.
We had some evidence earlier from the WLGA in terms of structures. Are the conditions of structures routinely—well, they will be routinely checked, but are they routinely published, in terms of the state of structures such as bridges, et cetera, both by trunk road agencies and local authorities?
We don't actually publish any of that condition data at the moment, and there's no reason why we couldn't if we chose to do that. I think that's the same for the other 22 highway authorities in Wales as well. But, as the Minister mentioned, we've just worked on an asset management strategy, and we're intending to launch that this autumn, and that actually sets out how we prioritise adding in things like the future generations Act, et cetera. On the back of that, we could add that kind of detail. So, for example, if I just show you one map that we have for road surfacing, we've actually looked on a national basis—I'll just get my paperwork—at the condition of the network. So, it's been visually inspected across the whole of Wales, and the kind of map that we get then is like a RAG way thing [correction: RAG status]—that sort of thing—so we could submit that through to the committee if you wish to see that. And that sort of indicates where our next important network need is. But, as you can imagine, with the wear and tear on the network, this is a pattern that changes very regularly, but we have inspections across the network all the time.
So, that's what we do for road. We do exactly the same for structures and all our other assets as well, whether it be street lighting, drainage, et cetera. So, all of that information is available. The asset is about £16 billion in value for Wales, and that's just for the motorway and trunk road network. So, we have a huge asset management database called the integrated roads information system, and all of that information is in there, and that's how we plan all of our work, based on that condition and where our money goes, and for the greatest priority on the network.
It was a bit difficult to see that then, but, if we could have a copy of that, it would be useful.
We can forward that. I think that puts it into context as well—a £16 billion asset, with £120 million backlog. Well, if you owned a house for, I don't know, £100,000, and your maintenance backlog was less than £1,000, I think you'd be doing pretty well. Most properties require considerably more than that in terms of ongoing maintenance, and the key is, just as with a house, don't defer it. Constantly spend on maintaining and that will avoid further problems, deeper problems, more expensive problems, further down the line. So, the actual—
Is that what's happening perhaps in local authorities? That seems to be what's happening in terms of their funding squeeze, and what's happening in—
With the funding squeeze. And difficult decisions have to be made, and it's for local authorities to make those decisions. And that's led, of course, to—. And I imagine that this been brought to your attention in some varying degrees in terms of the maintenance of local roads.
While we're on asset management, we took evidence from the University of Leeds, and they suggested that if you carry on with reactive maintenance it costs between 17 and 19 times more than if there was a planned approach to asset management. So, what we'd like from you is some comments regarding that.
I don't know where these figures come from—the 17 to 19 times the amount—and we also have a planned approach. It might be that it costs 17 to 19 times the amount, say, if a bridge collapses as a consequence of not maintaining it. So, I don't know where those figures come from. We will invite in Leeds university and try to understand the evidence that they've given, and some of the detailed work that they've carried out.
Some of the arguments that they put forward—I'm trusting my memory here—were that most of the work is confined to end-of-year spending. So, therefore, you don't have much choice in terms of procurement because it's short term, and you don't have much opportunity in terms of the people you employ because there's a labour shortage as well. I remember those two factors playing into those costs, but particularly the procurement and the supply of the material that would be needed. So, what they then said was that they felt that a common approach to asset management, and a single set of performance indicators and data, should be used on the Welsh network to better focus investment where it's needed, and also, while you're doing that, to look at collaboration and co-ordination between the trunk road agencies and also the local network.
There's a lot of content in that question, and it covers budget cycles, it covers the potential role of Transport for Wales as well, in terms of collaboration and planning, and also the need to ensure that you're getting maximum efficiency through procurement from ordering the likes of tarmac together, rather than doing it separately. But, Simon, you're particularly interested in this area.
So, the economic action plan talks about moving to a five-year capital budget round. And part of the reason for that is to address some of the points that you're making. I'm not sure that we'll ever get 17 to 19 times reductions in our capital costs as a result of doing this but, undoubtedly, there is an option, or an opportunity here, to improve value for money.
So, we've been looking at this with our colleagues from Transport for Wales. And a lot of this thinking is based on a business case that was pulled together for the creation of Highways England, which was predicated on a five-year capital budget programme. And that's really about doing as you've described—being able to consolidate procurement, so that you can better plan when you're going to need materials and labour over that five-year cycle. The Cabinet Secretary mentioned tarmac as a potential example. So, at the moment, there are very few suppliers of tarmac in the UK. So, if somebody needs to resurface a road, you're essentially buying that off the spot market, and, at the end of the financial year, the cost of tarmac increases. If you're able to plan when you need that material in a longer-term way, actually you don't need to go to the spot market anymore; you can get a better deal on that. Potentially, if you plan across multiple highway authorities, you might even be able to say, 'Well, why don't we encourage the creation of a Wales-based tarmac manufacturing facility, so that we don't need to go to the spot market every time we want to put a bit of blacktop down?'
So, there are lots of things that you can do when you move to that world, and that's the basis of the 15 to 20 per cent savings that the economic action plan talks about, and which are the same sort of savings that Highways England is predicated upon. So, I think there is scope there. Transport for Wales is a key part of being able to do that by having a delivery body that can help us work in that way.
And Sheena has something to say about a common approach to asset management.
Asset management, yes. It was just to mention that, for the past decade, we've been working quite closely with local highway authorities. We've been helping them with things like the backlog calculations, and also we were helping with the local government borrowing initiative, which was about £170 million over three years. That's now finished, but we're also looking at a common approach. So, there are already standards that exist, international standards—the International Standards Organisation 55000—for really good asset management practice. So, that's what our strategy's based on, which we're about to launch in the autumn. And I think the next step that we'd like to do then is to invite the local government association in, and the county surveyors, to see whether or not, actually, could we look to see if we can get some kind of national document, or national standards or indicators. So, those are the next steps that we're looking for in a common approach going forward.
You mentioned the local government borrowing initiative. That's the £30 million that was 20—
No, that's the recent one. Well, there's £30 million at the moment. I think it was a year ago there was £170 million over three years for local authorities to have capital money and then it would be paid back. It was a borrowing mechanism.
Yes, a separate amount. An additional £30 million has been released as well.
Thank you. Just one question from me, because your answers have been so thorough that it's covered a lot of the areas that I was going to question you on anyway. Going back to the IRIS model that you talked about earlier, I'm just wondering to what extent that's the answer for issues on the trunk road and motorway networks. The Welsh Government's paper says that there's data suggesting maintenance strategies have been effective, but as you said, there's a total backlog of carriageway and structural maintenance to the tune of £122 million, and an upward trend as well in category 1 defects. Is the IRIS model the way to solve all of that, or is there anything else that's part of the jigsaw to address those issues?
The IRIS model is a huge database, basically; it collects all of that 16 billion asset data. And the most important thing with the asset data—not just the information of where the assets are, et cetera, and the geography and those things—is the actual condition of it: bridge condition, road condition et cetera. So, that model then helps us to prioritise where the greatest network need is for the network. When we get our annual budget, we look to see where we need to put that money and where it's going to have the greatest effect to ensure that the network is reliable and is always operating for the customer. So, I don't think we need anything else yet; it's a huge tool. It also then feeds into works orders and it also does all the finance for us as well. It's been a huge piece of work that's taken five years to get it to be working really effectively, and I think at the moment that's a really good database for us to use.
And you're expecting improvements in efficiency, then, as a result of that.
Yes. And as I say, what you can then do as well is you can start to decide against each asset how you would like to cross-prioritise your money. If you only had £1 to spend, where would you put it? That kind of database allows you to start to see all of that data.
The five-year budget cycle you talked about—what does that cover? Does that cover trunk roads? Does it cover highways and the local authority network as well?
That's about the capital budgets. The Cabinet Secretary has asked us to prepare an investment appraisal to look at the role that Transport for Wales could play in terms of highway responsibilities. So, this 15 to 20 per cent saving is part of that investment appraisal. That work is ongoing and it should be completed in the autumn.
No. This is focused on the Government's asset. But I think one of the things that could be possible, if we move to a world where Transport for Wales are, if you like, the national centre of excellence for highway asset management and other activities, is that would be a facility then that could be usable by the local authorities, if they wished. So, they may be able to call on the expertise of Transport for Wales and some of the approaches that we see being pioneered there and use that in their own areas.
So, they could procure, at their own discretion, Transport for Wales to deliver.
Well, we're in the process of developing this investment appraisal, so those conversations will be taking place.
This is at a relatively early stage; we need to build capacity as well within Transport for Wales. But we're determined to innovate in this area, and I think it gives us a huge opportunity in terms of the common approach to make efficiency savings to better plan and to have a common approach that ensures that you have a more consistent standard of highways, both at local authority level and national.
And when did you say you plan—when did you plan to have some detail?
The autumn is the date that we're scheduled to provide this material to the Cabinet Secretary.
I can't give a guarantee of when it would be. It depends on a number of factors: engagement with stakeholders and partners, building capacity within Transport for Wales. I'd want to move to it as soon as possible, if it's feasible, but it will depend on what is presented as an options paper.
So, the £30 million commitment for 2018-19, is that going to be sustained, then?
We made it clear that that's a one-off payment to support local authorities in pretty exceptional circumstances.
Okay. Because the County Surveyors Society gave us evidence that they wanted that to be sustained and enhanced.
I'm conscious of that, but we are still living through an age of austerity and we have to make very, very difficult decisions. We made clear that this was a one-off payment.
Okay. What about their view that the population focus of the revenue support grant ends up disadvantaging rural roads?
Well, the formula is weighted against three points—the calculation. Sheena or Judith, do you want to outline the formula? It is agreed with local authorities.
We go through a process every year of updating the data—so, the population changes. So, that has an effect. But, in terms of the transport element of the funding formula, it takes into account three factors, which are: enhanced population—so, that takes account of tourism, so the impacts of that—it takes account of weighted road length—and that was something that local government itself said it wanted to bring in, because weighted road length means you take account of the class C roads, because those are more difficult, because, when you've got to do major works on a class C road, it might be the only route for many, many miles around, so for rural authorities that was particularly important—and it also takes account of traffic flow by a quite complicated vehicle kilometres method, which I'm happy to write to you about rather than take some time now.
And if the WLGA are of the view that the formula is to be addressed—if there are changes required—then I'd be more than happy to take a look at it.
Okay. Coming from a semi-rural area—certainly the north of my constituency is very rural—the quality of the roads, particularly after a cold winter, is not good. What do you think the consequences of that would be for your active travel policy?
Well, it would have an impact on active travel as well. The key consideration that people make when deciding whether to be active in their journeys is the safety of the road network, the safety of cycleways, the safety of pavements, and if the highways are not in a good, fit shape, then that will have an impact on the decision making of individuals.
I mean, the concern is—. When I asked about the £30 million, you said we are in an age of austerity and we can't do it. As a former councillor of 10 years, you'd ask the leader of the council the same question and you'd get the same answer, and therefore the first thing to go, often, is that kind of maintenance or regular maintenance. I suppose it's a catch-22. It simply does act against the policy.
I recognise that, yes. I think the £60 million extra that we've allocated for active travel demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that active travel is a priority. Decisions at a local level must be taken by local authority members. I recognise that it's very difficult, but the reality is that we are still living through an age of severe financial constraint.
So you don't think the Welsh Government should express a view about weighting towards things like active travel over other priorities? You think it's entirely up to local government how they deal with those things.
I would want to work in partnership with local government. In terms of the decision-making process that takes place within local authorities, I would wish to work with them in any change to the formula that's used to calculate funding. I would not wish to conduct changes to that formula without full participation of local government.
You referred in both of your last two answers to the local government funding formula. The figures I've seen suggest that some of the best performers on potholes are amongst, some of them, the worst funded. When I raised this with the WLGA, they highlighted prudential borrowing, they highlighted rurality, but is there any data to correlate this to see whether there is some good practice going on or some bad practice going on that could learn from each other?
Just like any highway authority, everybody would be collecting the data, so if somebody went out to inspect the road, they'd have a statutory duty to make sure it's safe. So, if there's a pothole that they think is dangerous then most highway authorities would make it safe within 24 hours, they would record that data and then they would go out and do a permanent repair at a later date. So, there's no reason why we couldn't ask for that data from—. Obviously, we keep it for the motorway and trunk road network, but we could also ask for it from the 22 highway authorities as well to see whether there is best practice. Because, as you say, some people may have a better method or a cheaper method and it would be very useful on a national picture if we could then spread that across Wales and get more value for money in our repairs.
I think it's a good point. We'll endeavour to bring that information to committee as soon as possible.
Can we turn to the approach to planning and delivery of major enhancement projects? There's a suggestion that procurement processes and the speed of decision making on major highway enhancement projects are key factors in limiting value for money—perhaps we should be saying 'in enhancing value for money', to turn it on its head—and that early engagement with stakeholders to make best use of time available in statutory processes would be beneficial. Given the constraints on budgets, obviously, these are critical factors, aren't they?
I hear these concerns. The WelTAG process requires us to engage in an early engagement process, but we do have a statutory consent process that we are obliged to follow. Whilst I accept that there are frustrations with the length of time that it can sometimes take to deliver projects, there is a careful balance to be made between ensuring that we minimise costs, but also making sure that we consult fully and widely, and that projects are fully scrutinised as well.
Given the importance of an effective pipeline for major highway projects for value for money, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering are suggesting the current approach is largely a wish list because political priorities change and funding is unrealistic—and that's a view supported, I must say, by business organisations and engineers as well.
And I think the creation of a national infrastructure commission for Wales will help in some regard to remove the factor of political cycles from budget cycles, and give a greater degree of certainty through depoliticising infrastructure investment. I think it's a very, very valid point.
Can we again now turn to early contractor involvement? There are, obviously, opportunities and risks involved with that. Capital Law points out that if you have a contractor involved at an early stage who basically puts themselves in pole position for delivering the main project, that has a potential for reducing value for money. Do you have a comment on that?
I think the suggestion is essentially that you have two or more involved in that process. I'm not sure that that would be—. Well, I'm not convinced at all that that would be accepted by the industry. We do maintain a competitive dialogue throughout the procurement exercise. I think maintaining an option to go back out to market is the way to ensure that you get best value for money from a scheme. Andy, you were going to mention something back on the previous point.
Yes, just on the previous point. We recognise the importance of keeping the industry informed of what work is in the pipeline. I think, obviously, the infrastructure commission will add a lot of value in terms of identifying priorities going forward in the longer term, but we do regularly meet with the industry because we recognise that it's important for them to gear up in terms of resources, and gear up in terms of the supply chain. So, that is very important. So, we've maintained regular contact with them.
Coming back to the ECI approach as well, yes, we recognise the benefits and, as you say, sometimes downsides of ECI, but from the Welsh Government's perspective, we have been engaging, through the procurement process, the ECI approach for some 10 years now, and we believe that, in many situations—in most situations—it's very successful.
Yes. The PAC report recognised that. I think there was a difference at the time in terms of cost certainties in those schemes that were delivered via a process that wasn't ECI and those that were. The vast majority of Welsh Government projects are delivered through the ECI process.
Again, picking up on what the Minister said in terms of engaging with two contractors, I can see the logic there, but I think, on balance, there's benefit in collaborating with a contractor through the development phase, so that when we consult with stakeholders and when we go through the statutory consent process, we can actually say, 'This is what is going to happen because we have the delivering organisation with us'. But it is fair to say that the process we go through is a two-step process, and there is the opportunity of going back to the market if we are unable to agree a target cost with the in-situ contractor.
Okay. So, what is your response to Sustrans's comment that, regardless of the use of ECI, cost remains the key driver for procurement that can, for example, see active travel elements of a scheme sacrificed in the final build? As the build goes on, and budgets are squeezed, they seem to feel that active travel infrastructure then suffers at the end of that.
It's really, really important this, because I think there is some misconceptions of the procurement process and the weighting that's given to cost. Actually, 70 per cent of the weighting is given to quality, and 30 per cent to cost. And once the draft orders are made, then the contractor is obliged to deliver, and it's not a question of whether then certain components are squeezed out in order to achieve better value for money. Those active travel elements should be delivered.
But is it happening? Are you denying that that's happening, that they are altering the infrastructure as the project progresses?
No. To the best of my knowledge, that is not the case. As the Minister says, quality is the main driver in terms of our procurement process, and not cost. And it isn't lowest cost that would win the day and scores the best marks. In terms of what is the—. Once the draft orders, i.e. the plans for the scheme are published and gone through the statutory consent process, that is a commitment that is being delivered. Now, I suspect some of the comments, having seen some of the previous evidence, relate to a particular scheme—A465 section 3. In those circumstances, we work very well with Sustrans to develop proposals, and I think the vast majority of those elements of infrastructure that have been included are in accordance with the active travel standards.
I think there were one or two instances where, pragmatically, when we were tying back into existing facilities, perhaps the full standard—. There is a point where we have to rejoin the existing network. To the best of our knowledge, the facilities are being used well and are being enjoyed by active travellers, and are not to the detriment of them. So, I suspect that that is where the comment is coming from, but certainly, from our viewpoint, once an element of a scheme, whatever that might be—environmental or active travel—is included in the draft order, then we are committed to deliver that.
So, you're saying that active travel elements are in the quality—when you say 'quality build' they are actually placed in that quality build of active travel's infrastructure.
Sorry, yes, active travel is considered at all stages of the process and is included alongside local government plans. We work in conjunction with local government to understand where they're coming from, but they are included in schemes.
I think the accusation that you've picked up on is that the procurement process means that all of the decisions are based on just cost, and therefore removing elements of active travel would reduce cost, and therefore we go for the options that are the least cost, and therefore, as a consequence of that, don't fully incorporate active travel. It's simply not true. Seventy per cent of the schemes are based—. The appraisal is based on 70 per cent quality, 30 per cent on cost. And once, as Andy said, whether it's environmental or active travel, it's incorporated into the draft orders, it's an obligation to deliver it, and those components cannot be abandoned or sacrificed. Simon.
It might also be worth adding that some of these schemes are actually about alleviating traffic congestion in places where there's a really serious traffic problem. And by moving traffic away—the example of the Caernarfon to Bontnewydd bypass is perhaps a good one, in terms of the volumes of traffic that are going to be removed from Caernarfon and other places—that actually makes the environment for active travel in those places that are being bypassed much safer, and potentially much more attractive. So, we shouldn't just think about the scheme in isolation; it's about the wider impact of the scheme as well.
That is, I guess, an early trailblazer of this. The A494 bypass around Mold is a good example of how congestion was hugely relieved within Mold by constructing the bypass, and that then made it a safer, more attractive proposition for people to be active in their travel within that community.
Okay, thank you. I think the point was being made that when value engineering exercises are undertaken, often it's these additional elements and the active travel schemes that are squeezed out. You're not denying that, are you?
No, I wouldn't accept that. Yes, value engineering happens on all schemes and we look at all elements of the scheme to ensure that best value is delivered. And we meet many organisations that have many demands, shall we say, from an infrastructure project. The important thing we try and do is get the balance right in terms of what we deliver through a major infrastructure project and what we can deliver in collaboration with a local authority, for example. Simon mentioned the issue about maximising the opportunity of what a bypass scheme, if it is a bypass scheme, can deliver in terms of reduction of traffic on local roads, where perhaps active travel or the active travel investment could bring best benefits.
But that only works if the advantages are locked in through road space reallocation. If it's just simply left to local roads that are a bit quieter because there's a bypass, those roads will fill up. You need to take active measures to prioritise active modes and that's not happening.
Well, I think that's a very good point. We do need to work, as far as that's concerned, and some of the things we are—
But, with respect, Mr Falleyn, you've said that before and I'm not sure what the action is that's happening to do that.
Well, the action is that we're working with local authorities in a far more constructive manner to bring to the forethought of the thinking what can be done. The bypass scheme is alleviating Bontnewydd, for example, of 70 per cent of traffic, and Caernarfon of 40 per cent of traffic. We are and will be working with local authorities to say, 'This is an opportunity to reallocate road space. We want you to think about doing that.'
We are about to set up, potentially—. Decisions obviously haven't been made on the M4 relief road, but what we want to do is work with Newport City Council and plan—we are planning a cycle summit with them and a public transport summit to see what opportunities there are and get the thinking in place before we actually get to that stage. So, I accept that we can always do things better and I accept that this is—excuse the pun—the journey we're going on, but I think you're absolutely right. It's a very good point. We should be working to make sure that any space freed up by the work we do is reallocated appropriately.
The local active travel projects that are going to be enhanced as a consequence of the £60 million we've made available I think is a good example of how we're going to be doing this. It's a matter for local government, of course, to apply, but I think there are opportunities, especially the example that Andy's given, the Caernarfon-Bontnewydd scheme, with the ability to make significant changes now that we're going to be seeing congestion reduced in those communities. Significant changes in terms of active travel behaviour and culture, utilising the active travel fund—I think huge potential now.
Can I ask you, Cabinet Secretary, in as concise a way as possible, and in a way that anyone who is not familiar with it can understand: how does a mutual investment model differ to private finance initiative?
I think the finance Minister has offered a technical briefing to the committee—
I was thinking something for people who wouldn't get a technical briefing, but would be watching on the off chance today.
There are many people who, I imagine, are going to be watching on the off chance today.
Simon, do you want to outline the—[Inaudible.] He's more concise than me.
I'm just thinking, can we not say this in a simple sentence for laypeople to understand?
It's about making sure that the upside of the scheme is shared with the public authority in a way that PFI doesn't work. So, in PFI, all of the upside generally goes back to the private sector. In the mutual investment model, the public sector shares in those benefits.
Okay. And the next question a member of the public would ask is: give me three ways.
Okay, now you're getting into the technical stuff, I think.
This is what concerns me about it—the technical differences are technical differences and people won't understand it as being any different to PFI.
There's been an awful lot of work done by people with way more expertise in this than me, and it probably wouldn't be fair for me to try and give you a two-minute précis of it, but perhaps it might be better if we give you a short document that does do exactly that.
We can compress it for them—
Not everything in the modern age can't be condensed and distilled into a tweet. Look, I think, in all fairness, this is an issue for finance colleagues and technical briefings.
I hadn't realised, but I understand from the clerk that Mark Drakeford has offered a technical briefing on this particular point.